Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Published by Scholastic Press

Summary:  The Pinkneys relate the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, beginning with a “Henny Penny Prelude”, in which the fairy tale hen tries to warn of the bitter events ahead.  The remaining poems are in three sections: “Daylight”, “Darkness”, and “Dawn”, in which King’s work is described, particularly the sanitation workers’ strike that brought him to Memphis, Tennessee in March and April of 1968.  The assassination occurs part way through “Darkness”, and includes poems about Coretta Scott King, the Kings’ four children, and James Earl Ray.  “Dawn” is made up of just three poems, concluding with “Rejoice the Legacy” which celebrates MLK’s legacy, including the holiday celebrating his birth.  Back matter includes author’s and artist’s reflections, four pages of text describing the events from the poems called “Now Is the Time” (with several photographs), a timeline, and sources.  128 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Both the poetry and the illustrations are majestic and give the reader much to think about.  The author’s note suggests that the poems could be performed with the “Now Is the Time” section as narration and adding poems to the appropriate parts of the story.

Cons:  The Henny Penny motif was a bit confusing to me.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

I Am Loved: A Poetry Collection by Nikki Giovanni, illustrations by Ashley Bryan

Published by Atheneum

Summary:  In 11 short poems, Nikki Giovanni expresses love, both for the reader and for the simple everyday pleasures surrounding him or her.  Wildflowers, cats, and quilts are all celebrated.  In “No Heaven”, she asks how there can be no heaven when there is so much to appreciate all around.  “A Song of Blackbird” looks at how we describe people and remember them when they’re gone.  “I Am a Mirror” comes with a mylar mirror for the reader to reflect on, and mentions the auction block and middle passage.  The final poem, “Do the Rosa Parks” is a catchy song that encourages readers to sit down with those who are suffering and stand up to injustice.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Award winners Giovanni and Bryan team up for a perfect introduction to poetry for the youngest readers, illustrated in Bryan’s trademark colorful folk-inspired paintings.

Cons:  The mylar mirror may not survive repeated library use.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Full of Fall by April Pulley Sayre

Published by Beach Lane Books

Summary:  “September sun is low in the sky/So long summer/Green, goodbye!” So begins this homage to autumn.  Each page has a few lines of poetry, describing the colors as leaves change from green to red and gold to brown.  Large, colorful photographs show the stages in detail, as well as animals often associated with the season, like squirrels and geese.  “Goodbye, leaf show/Winter is coming/Oh, hello, snow!”  The last page provides a perfect transition to check out a similar book by the author, Best in Snow.  Includes two pages that give more scientific information about what is happening on each page of the book.  40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Another gorgeous book about the seasons from April Pulley Sayre (see also Raindrops Roll).  Combine this with In the Middle of Fall by Kevin Henkes (see my 9/22 review) for a perfect autumn story hour.

Cons:  All that raking.

If you’d like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Life by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

Published by Beach Lane Books

Summary:  Life begins small and grows.  Ask any animal what it loves about life, and you will get different answers: the hawk loves the sky, the camel loves the sand, the snake loves the grasssss.  Life isn’t always easy, but it is constantly changing.  So if you’re in the wilderness now, it will most likely end eventually.  “And it is worth waking up in the morning to see what might happen.”  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  This lovely book features poetic text by Newbery Medalist Cynthia Rylant, complemented by the gorgeous illustrations of animals all over the world.  This would make a perfect gift for a graduate or someone else moving into a new chapter of life.

Cons:  This may not have instant appeal for young kids; it’s probably best read with adult accompaniment.

Back to School Book List

Tomorrow I take my daughter back to college, Monday and Tuesday are professional development days at my school, and Wednesday the kids return.  This gives me the bittersweet mix of sadness that summer is over and excitement that school is starting again.  If you and/or anyone in your life is going back to school, here are some new books you might want to read.

Back to School With Bigfoot by Samantha Berger and Martha Brockenbrough, illustrated by Dave Pressler.  Published by Arthur A. Levine Books.

Bigfoot explains why going back to school is extra difficult for him; from back-to-school shopping and haircuts to fitting in at the cafeteria.  He’s ready to quit until he remembers all the fun that’s in store for him in the year ahead.  Perfect for dealing with first day jitters.


A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices by Sally Derby, illustrated by Mika Song.  Published by Charlesbridge.

I haven’t had a chance to look at this poetry book yet, but reviews call it a great ice-breaker for teachers and a possible inspiration for kids’ writing.  Six diverse kids from grades K-5 tell their experiences throughout the first day of school in four sections that start with the anxious night before and end after the first day is over.


Twindergarten by Nikki Ehrlich, illustrated by Zoey Abbott.  Published by Harper.

Know any twins who are in different classrooms for the first time?  This book will show them how it’s done, with the reassuring message that it’s possible to thrive on your own while maintaining that twin connection.


I’m Smart! by Kate and Jim McMullan.  Published by Balzer and Bray.

Using their winning formula from I Stink! and its sequels, the McMullans present a cheerful and confident school bus who explains the ins and outs of her job.

How to Get Your Teacher Ready by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish.  Published by Alfred A. Knopf.

Another one I haven’t read yet, but it’s from the team that brought you How to Babysit a Grandpa and its sequels, so it’s sure to be a fun and rollicking look at the beginning of school, as well as a fine example of procedural writing.


Second Grade Holdout by Audey Vernick, illustrated by Matthew Cordell.  Published by Clarion Books.

Obnoxious older siblings have the narrator believing that second grade is too much for him to handle.  Sticking with first grade seems a lot easier, but maybe not as much fun…



Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market by Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Amy Huntington

Published by Charlesbridge

Summary:  A collection of 18 poems describes a farmers’ market from “Early Risers” through “Day’s End”.  The poems vary somewhat in format, including one poem for two voices, and appear in a variety of ways on the page, sometimes weaving through the illustrations.  Many of the poems are about the farmers’ produce, but there are also some about other features of the market, like the bakery, a musical duet, and Antonio’s Old-Time Sharpening, who will sharpen  your dull knife or scissors.  The last page gives five reasons to spend a day at a market, giving more information about the benefits of local food and a website to find a farmers’ market near you.  32 pages; grades PreK-3.

Pros:  Not only a rollicking look at the bounty available at the farmers’ market, but a great introduction to poetry as well.

Cons:  The rhythm of “Market Melody”, the poem about the musicians, felt a little clunky.

Animal Ark: Celebrating our wild world in poetry and pictures photographs by Joel Sartore, words by Kwame Alexander

Published by National Geographic

Summary:  The National Geographic Photo Ark is a project in which Joel Sartore is photographing every captive species.  Thirty two of these photos are showcased here, along with brief poems by Kwame Alexander.  The photos are close-ups on plain black or white backgrounds.  More animals appear on two sets of pull-out pages, along with their IUCN status indicating how endangered that species is.  Notes from the photographer and the writer give more information about their work, how this book came to be, and what kids can do to help the animals pictured here.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kids will fall in love with the photographs in this book, and may even be inspired to try writing haikus inspired by them.

Cons:  While Kwame Alexander calls his poetry haikus, and defines haikus as having 17 syllables in the traditional 5-7-5 arrangement, these poems don’t seem to fit the definition.